Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-009297-1
Historical Romance, 2004
Cathy Maxwell seems to put some effort into her story only in the late half of The Seduction of an English Lady. For too long, this book is a rambling tale of two childish dimwits bickering all over the place. As in the case of too many romance novels, the hero Colin Mandland undergoes tremendous character growth – which is why I say the second half of the book is so much better – while the heroine remains stuck in the “desperately in love” rut of a mode.
It all begins when Rosalyn Wellbourne opens the door of her Maiden Hill manor one day to realize that her relative has sold her home and the lands around her to Colonel Colin Mandland. She is caught unawares because the dreaded Dotty Old Woman companion of hers keeps this letter from the said relative and forgets to pass it on to her. From the get go, both Rosalyn and Colin start acting like children, saying the meanest things they can think of to each other just to get the rise out of the other person. But Colin will later have to marry Rosalyn if he wants to further his political aspirations. And Rosalyn, well, you know how these heroines can be. Despite having stated again and again that she doesn’t trust or like him (even as she privately mourns the fact that this man will be a great husband to her – really!) and after turning down his initial proposal, she realizes that she is lonely after seeing Colin holding a baby and wham! She asks him to marry her. Because that’s what you do: you are lonely so you marry the first guy that asks, even if you don’t like him. Pathetic, but hey, she’s a romance heroine, so what else can I say?
That’s the premise of this story: these two trying to put a semblance of a workable life together after their marriage. But for the most part, these two are not interesting at all. They can be irritating at times too. Colin, for example, keeps going on and on about poor little he, acting as if the world is against him even he behaves like a selfish tool. Cathy Maxwell however is an author that isn’t blind to the foolishness of her characters and here, she gleefully lets Colin roast when his conscience takes a few hammering in the later parts of the story. While he starts out a disagreeable and selfish boor, Colin undergoes some much-needed epiphany. By the last page of the story, his love for his wife and his journey to self-discovery raises him above everyone else in this story when it comes to character depths and complexity.
Poor Rosalyn, however, spends most of her time making many self-justifications to herself in order to force herself love her husband more and more despite his treatment of her. She never rises above the “two-parts martyr, one-part desperate, one-part gullible” formula of the typical romance heroine nowadays and more annoyingly, what little of her pathetic show of “epiphany” amounts to her thinking that she is wrong all about her husband and he is sooooo much better than the man she tries to make herself think he is. Put her side by side with Colin and I really wish that romance authors will put as much effort in developing their heroines as they sometimes put into their heroes. Colin is well-written and he deserves an equally three-dimensional wife, not some overly earnest feet cushion that can’t match him in every way that counts. She never challenges her husband to change or reevaluate his behavior – it is Colin’s brother that does the most of the mental kicking that jump-starts Colin’s epiphany. Because of this, the romance is one of the least interesting aspects of the story.
Despite Colin, the overall story has a half-baked, underwritten feel to it. For too long, the author is more content with describing the scenery and antics of the dotty secondary characters while letting her main characters just bicker on and on. The good parts like character development (on Colin’s part, especially) only kick in late in the story. And even then, it’s a one-man show by Colin to save the story. His epiphany, his love for his wife (as opposed to Rosalyn’s dull goo-goo eyed hero worship of Colin), everything about him is what makes this book very readable at that point.
Because Ms Maxwell is an accomplished storyteller, the prose and the dialogs in this story may persuade the reader to overlook the skimpy plot for the most part of the book. Not that it helps this book much. The substantial and satisfying aspects of the story kick in too late for The Seduction of an English Lady to come off as anything but a watered-down Cathy Maxwell book.